If you can't get people to the grocery –bring the groceries to the people. That's the basic premise of St. Louis MetroMarket – a mobile food market that is bringing fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, poultry and staples to areas where free-standing grocery stores are hard to reach or do not exist.
Food deserts are found in both urban and rural areas. Families are living in places without easy access grocery stores and supermarkets that stock fresh, healthy and affordable food.
The market is a full-service grocery store on wheels, stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and bread from local farmers and community gardens.
MetroMarket also likes to promote where its food came from, and uses the overhead space on the bus, where ads are usually displayed, to tell those stories. Workers and volunteers also offer nutritional information and food demos that show customers how they can prepare the food sold on the bus just outside of it.
But it's a lot more than a farmers market on wheels. Jeremy Goss, a Saint Louis University medical student and one of the founders of MetroMarket, along with Washington University graduates Colin Dowling and Tej Azad, told The Huffington Post, "Entire communities in St. Louis don't have a grocery store. It was very frustrating to us."
Goss explained to local media, "These are places where there are far more fast food restaurants than anything and where there is access to food, it's typically a convenience store," adding, "And the selection isn't ideal."
This contributes to low-nutrition diets and higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service estimates 23.5 million people live in food deserts. More than half of those living in food deserts (13.5 million) are low-income. There are at least 17 areas designated as food deserts in the St. Louis area, according to the USDA.
The mobile market got off the ground with grants, donations and a free bus provided to them by St. Louis' metro transit department, It parks in corporate parking lots and low-income neighborhoods void of one vital business.
To shop, you do have to have a membership known as a Fresh Pass, which costs $150, but it can be subsidized by your employer, or if you live in a food desert community, or low-income neighborhood with a grocery store and live below the poverty line.
Goss told the Huffington Post that any of the revenue made is used to offset the work they're doing in low-income communities. "For every corporation we take on as a customer, we can subsidize this work in a low-income community," he said.
Food prices are also on a sliding scale, Goss explained.
"Someone with a corporate membership would pay retail prices so those who don't typically have access to quality food can buy it at cost."